By James A. Fussell McClatchy Newspapers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Brandie Mavrich loves to make cash registers go in reverse.
On a recent trip to SuperTarget, her total topped $260. Then the discount diva pulled out her coupons and started working her markdown magic.
Three dollars off. Five. Seven. Her total dropped to $200, then $150. It was like going backward in time, only with money.
The 34-year-old south Kansas City, Mo., woman was just getting started. The digital readout blinked $125, then went under $100. The register began to smoke, or at least it should have.
Seventy. Sixty. Fifty. Finally, the dumbfounded checker read the total: $32.62.
Let others save 30 cents on corn flakes or canned peaches. Mavrich has discovered a better way to turn coupons — a fixture in groceries for more than 100 years — into mountains of money.
It’s called extreme couponing, and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Fueled by the recession and made possible by the Internet, the practice is spreading across the country. Numbers suggest it could be huge. Bargain hunters used 3.2 billion coupons in 2009. That’s not only a 23 percent increase from 2008, it was the largest one-year jump ever recorded, according to NCH Marketing Services Inc. of Deerfield, Ill.
How does Mavrich do it?
“The goal is to take what the store has on sale, mix it with a manufacturer’s coupon and a store’s loyalty program, then stack all those deals together and come out on the other side free, or near free.”
The heart of couponing is still the Sunday newspaper. Mavrich has two subscriptions to The Kansas City Star, and sometimes she buys 10 more copies at a convenience store.
Much of the increase is thanks to technology. Today’s discount devotees connect through cell phones, Facebook, Twitter and online coupon communities. Popular sites include SlickDeals.net, TheKrazyCouponLady.com, CouponForum.com and AFullCup.com.
Some couponers hoard their bargain booty, while others sell it or give it to friends, but the goal is the same: Save tons of money.
Mavrich’s best efforts? She saved $316 at SuperTarget, and $327 at Walgreens, and she has the receipts to prove it.
Mavrich said there are many ways to save big.
“For instance, Olay offered a rebate. You buy three moisturizers, body washes or bars of soap, and they give you $15 back. That’s a pretty nice deal by itself. So I go to Target and buy three.”
Did she get them free?
“Nope,” Mavrich said. “I actually made money.”
“Let me lay it out for you,” she said. “There was a coupon in the newspaper for Venus Embrace women’s razors that I got on a buy-one-get-one-free deal. If I bought the razor, I got the Olay body wash for free. And they were having a sale at Target where if I bought three Olay body washes I got a $5 Target gift card. So I got three coupons, bought the three razors and got the three body washes for free. Plus I got $2 off of each razor by using three other coupons. That brought my total down to $8.97. Then you subtract the $5 Target gift card for buying the three body washes, and that’s $3.97. Then you mail in the $15 manufacturer’s rebate for buying the three Olay body washes, and …
She turned an $11 profit.
Mavrich keeps many of the products for her family, but she doesn’t approve of hoarding. She recently donated her record-setting Walgreens purchase to the Kansas City Rescue Mission.
Mavrich’s couponing Web site — KitschyKoupons.com — is under construction, but you can get information on her upcoming couponing classes by e-mailing her at infokitschykoupons.com.